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Not Content With All Their Regular Privilege, 50 Rich and/or Famous People Charged in Massive College Bribery Scam

William H Macy and Felicity Huffman look glamorous as they buy their child's college admission. (images: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

The Justice Department has charged 50 people for their alleged roles in a massive bribery scam designed to let wealthy parents buy their children a spot at a number of top colleges, including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA.

This goes beyond the usual ways in which wealthy families can buy their way into these schools–making massive donations and putting their name on buildings and the like–to straight-up cheating on entrance exams and getting their children recruited for teams they have no intention of playing on, sometimes with literally no experience in the sport they’re being recruited for.

The list of parents involved are mostly just super-rich regular people, but there are also a few super-rich famous people like Desperate Housewives & Sports Night’s Felicity Huffman and Full House‘s Lori Loughlin, both of whom are reportedly currently in federal custody. Oddly, Neither woman’s husbands are making headlines, despite the fact the William H. Macy was allegedly caught on tape conspiring to rig his daughter’s SAT scores.

According to the Washington Post, the scam, which the FBI is calling–and I promise I’m not making this up–Operation Varsity Blues–involved at least one college admissions advisor, William Singer, taking approximately $25 million dollars in bribes.

Some of it he allegedly gave to sports coaches to say students were on their team (as with Loughlin’s daughters) or standardized testing officials to help students cheat (like the Muffmans). According to the criminal complaint, that involved providing answers to students, correcting them afterwards, or having another student take the test altogether.

The sports workaround is … bizarre.

Singer is said to have funneled this money through the Key Worldwide Foundation, a fake charity he set up for the purpose of taking bribes. According to their tax filings, the Key Worldwide Foundation is designed to “provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students.” In reality, it allows ultra-privileged students with mediocre transcripts to purchase their college education–and in a way that’s tax deductible for the cheating parents.

Boston’s U.S. attorney, Andrew Lelling, told the Post, “These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege. This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either.”

But of course, there already is a separate college admission system for the wealthy. The most blatant example is legacy families making giant “donations,” which is just a socially acceptable form of bribery. Beyond that, though, wealthy families have far better access to so many forms of assistance that have been proven to increase kids’ chances of getting into a top school–things like private tutors or the ability to take an unpaid internship without worrying about finances. That these families had access to all of this and still decided to just do outright crimes is beyond upsetting.

It’s just a stunning look at the inequity of access to these opportunities.

The grossest part of this whole story might be the ways in which they reportedly exploited the disability accommodations process, set up for those with legitimate special test-taking needs. A CUNY professor explained on Twitter how that works:

These families used their wealth to buy space in universities that could potentially have gone to students who deserved that education, managed to make their crimes tax-deductible, and they exploited systems set up for students with disabilities in the process.

(images: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.